DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ISOBEL COLEMAN: Good morning, everyone, thank you for being here today.
I want to acknowledge and thank all of the government partners, trade ministers, and representatives for joining us here today, as well as civil society and industry leaders for your engagement, and for being such great supporters of free and fair trade across the African continent.
In every meeting with government and local partners, one thing is clear: what our country partners want is less aid, and more investment, trade, and inclusive economic growth.
We know several things to be true.
First, rising agricultural productivity drives economic growth, increases incomes and improves food security.
Second – when vibrant food and agricultural markets integrate with the regional and with the global markets, communities see increased availability of safe and nutritious food, more stable local prices, and new pathways for expanding economic growth.
Third, no single country produces all of the food it consumes.
All countries depend upon trade to some degree. Ultimately, international trade is critical to global food security.
This is why USAID works with countries to reduce trade barriers and better enable the movement of food across borders, making it more accessible to those who need it. The world continues to face considerable market uncertainties in agriculture, from lingering supply chain disruptions, to climate change and conflict.
As we’ve all experienced, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year resulted in sharp spikes in world grain prices. Markets have been doing their best to adapt, and global commodity grain prices gradually fell last year.
But they have jumped back up again since Russia unilaterally withdrew from the Black Sea Grain Initiative in July – an initiative that allowed Ukraine to export more than 33 million metric tons of critical food staples to the rest of the world, with two thirds of that going to developing countries.
Russia’s weaponization of food extends to its relentless attacks on Ukrainian agricultural infrastructure. Even as it has blocked Ukrainian grain exports, Russia has picked up that market share itself and benefited from record grain exports last year and this year, making the world more dependent on Russian food exports.
Even though we’ve seen food markets remain resilient in the face of these stresses, long-term global food security depends on policies that maintain a robust trade in food and commodities.
We recognize that high food prices can pressure governments to restrict food exports for immediate price relief for domestic consumers.
But while trade restrictions might offer temporary respite, over the longer term, these kinds of interventions disrupt regional trade and food security for those with the greatest needs.
Time and again, we see trade restrictions hurting smallholder farmers. Policy and regulatory predictability are essential for attracting increased foreign direct investment and promoting open trade. Africa, with its growing population, must increase its share of global investment and financing in agriculture.
Today’s conversation between the public and private sectors is an excellent chance to explore ways that we can partner to drive investments, open up markets, and reduce risks across the agriculture sector.
The African Union has declared the theme of this year to be Acceleration of the African Continental Free Trade Area Implementation, acknowledging the profound opportunities that exist for interregional trade.
Feed the Future, which is the U.S. government’s global hunger initiative led by USAID, is committed to working with local, national and regional policy makers to advance an African-led vision for more open and inclusive trade that drives economic growth and attracts investment.
For more than a decade, Feed the Future’s long-term investments in agriculture have helped our partner countries keep their agrisystems functioning, farmers productive, markets working, and children healthy – especially amidst sudden shocks.
For example, in Zambia, USAID is investing $9 million dollars to accelerate the country’s agro-processing industry, to boost agricultural exports, and create jobs for young people.
We provided a $20,000 loan guarantee to help NewGrowCo, a Zambian grain trader, source grain from 20,000 smallholder farmers in the country and resell it to neighboring countries in urgent need. More than 2,100 metric tons of white maize have already been sent to Kenya, Namibia, and South Africa.
This is another powerful example of how trade is so important for regional access for this important staple.
And in Nigeria, when smallholder farmers could not obtain affordable fertilizer, we supported a company that develops fertilizers customized to local conditions and crop needs, helping farmers increase their crop yields by 24 percent when they needed it most.
We work closely with our colleagues at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help countries strengthen sanitary and phytosanitary standards through programs like the Food Safety for Food Security Partnership, ensuring that food is safe for in-country consumption and that exports are not rejected.
Successful trade agreements are built by a broad, diverse range of stakeholders, with the private sector playing a crucial role. They also require deep engagement and input from all sides.
When local actors, entrepreneurs, and small agribusiness owners have a voice in policy making, they are more likely to grow and succeed and reinvest earnings that benefit the community. But despite demonstrating the most potential for growth, the voices of women, youth, and rural enterprises, in particular, are too often overlooked.
This is where government and industry together must take proactive steps to address systemic exclusion and ensure that they are enfranchised to engage meaningfully in decisions that impact their opportunities and livelihoods.
At USAID, we don’t have to imagine the growth potential when marginalized groups are given a seat at the table – we see the results in the growth of women-led institutions like Omega Foods Zambia Limited.
Omega’s founder, Justina Opit established her grain and flour milling business when she struggled to find nutritious foods for her son. Last year, with USAID assistance, her company was able to purchase 64 metric tons of raw materials from 500 smallholder farmers and hire new staff to expand Omega’s reach and provide nutritious foods for families across the country.
With local partners like Omega, we are enabling broad-based, inclusive growth through agricultural trade and investment.
USAID is committed to this work because we know increased trade and investment is a win-win.
Investors benefit from high returns in Africa – home to half the world's fastest growing economies – and African businesses benefit from accessing the capital they need to meet increasing demand, create new jobs, and support an emerging middle class and growing workforce across the continent.
I hope today’s discussions are an opportunity for potential partners to devise concrete ideas for entrepreneurs like Justina.
We have seen the potential. We don’t simply believe in our African partners’ entrepreneurial and innovative spirit – we see it every day in action.
With that, I thank you, and will turn the floor back over to Daniel.